America's Ballroom Challenge

(image borrowed from Ohio Star Ball website).

So, what did you guys think about the show?

I was worried I’d be mad about the new format but I really ended up thinking this one worked better, at least for TV, even if it is fake. For people who’ve never been to a regular ballroom dance competition before, the competition is really the first parts, the group dances (as shown in the picture above) — that they severly truncated here, showing only a small part of one dance for each of the four categories. But I do think the showdances work so much better for TV. On TV the excitement of the group dances is really lost. But it’s so stunning to see, to feel, all these couples whizzing by you, spinning, shaking their hips at lightening speed, to hear the crowds cheer, scream really, while all the couples try to look so glamorous and graceful, the raucous audience making it seem more like a boxing match. I encourage everyone who hasn’t been to go to a real competition.

Anyway, it wasn’t much of a surprise that Riccardo Cocchi and Yulia Zagoruychenko won — they’re second in the world in Latin, and I’m wondering, after watching them in November (which is when this show was taped), if they could overtake the current champs, Poland’s Michael Malitowski and Joanna Leunis, at some point. I loved their Cha Cha tonight (with her in the sizzling red and him in the open tux jacket), their Samba, and their combo routine to the pure percussion (which I love — I love that they’re not afraid to use that kind of music). I love how they vary the rhythms in an often unpredictable way, I love his speed and how she makes original shapes with her body, especially when she tucks in her stomach, rolls her shoulders, and curls her pelvis, looking almost like a cobra. Or is it a python? The snake that lifts its front part and expands its head, ghost-like, before attacking?… (I don’t really want to do a google image search) Anyway, I really really love them– Yulia and Riccardo.

Since the two top Standard couples — Arunas Bizokas and Katusha Demidova and Victor Fung and Anna Mikhed — were at another competition (I think in the U.K.) at the same time as the Ohio Star Ball and didn’t compete, it was really a toss up who would win. I thought Linas Koreiva and Liene Apale would win — I thought they danced the best — though I loved the balletic look to Mikhail Avdeev and Anastasia’s beautiful waltz. I love how in all their routines

— oooh, Oscar Hijuelos (one of my favorite writers, author of Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love) is on Larry King, PBS! He is WAY the hell younger than I thought… —

sorry,  just had to say that. 🙂 Anyway, I love how Mikhail and Anastasia’s dances were all basic, yet so well done, so beautifully executed. Shows how dance is more about excellent technique and lush, expansive movement than tricks. And I love that they used classical music instead of going for the modern and poppy.

Totally predictable of course that Joanna Zacharewicz and Jose DeCamps would win Rhythm — and how much do I love that there are Joses in the world — how hot was that mambo! And that John Travolta! He is truly one of the most charismatic dancers in all of ballroom.

And Jonathan Roberts and Valentina were lovely. I do believe she is the powerhouse of that partnership. She really shines and her form is so splendid. His is less so (and I caught him pigeon-toed a few times), though he is a solid support for her, which is mainly what the man is supposed to be. I liked J.T. Thomas and Tomasz Mielnicki’s snazzy Foxtrot, though I’ve seen both couples in competition before and can see how Jonathan and Valentina took the whole without winning the showdance portion.

Oh, before I forget, what did you guys think of that Swan Lake dance at the beginning of the program, by Mikhail Zharinov and Galina Detkina in the American Smooth division? It was one of the very first ones, if you can remember. If you didn’t notice — and the announcers didn’t point it out — she was wearing a long white glove on her right arm, with a swan’s face and beak painted on the thumb and fingers. So, the way she was holding that arm up and bending her wrist like she did, when you see it up close (as I did at Champions of the Dance recently here in NY at Town Hall), her whole body really does look like a swan, with her hand the head, her arm the neck, and her skirt — when pulled out and held to the back (either by him or by her) — the body. I couldn’t figure out how I felt about it when I saw it live — whether I thought it was cheesy or pretty, and, after seeing it from further afar, on TV, I choose the latter.

Other things: I love my Vaidotas Skimelis 🙂 Dressed as Mozart! Or was it Louis the XVI and Jurga Pupelyte Marie Antoinette? What a big fun charming goof. But an excellent dancer. Their dance was rather humorous but they still had very nice form and some creative choreography and he had some jumps and stylized runs that showed he really could be a balletic, graceful dancer, large as he is.

And why do I have no problem envisioning Boriana Deltcheva as a cat! She’s so feline already; I love the way she climbed on Delyan’s back and wrapped her legs around his waist. She’s such a tall, thin thing, she looked just like a sleek black catwoman. She has the ideal body. She put a note up on Facebook a while ago advertising that she was selling some of her costumes and I had to laugh — like everyone the planet over wishes they could fit into them 🙂

Another highlight: Gherman Mustuc and Iveta Lukosiute’s Carmen tango in the Standard. They always come up with such creative showdance ideas. Such great music, and her red dress was gorgeous.

Pavlo Barsuk and Anna Trebunskaya: how insanely intense was that Paso! I love intense Pasos! And he is the ultimate in the intensity department, believe me – -if you even see him dance live, he does this thing where his eyes grow really wide; he looks like he could devour you for lunch — or his competition anyway. Such a funny contrast to her sweet face and toothy chipmunk smile.

And of course Eugene Katsevman and Maria Manusova — sorry, I’m really into the Latins, obviously. They recently danced at the Dance Times Square showcase and I totally fell for them. He is so damn fast and slick and precise. And they ended one of their dances at the DTS show with that ending trick they did tonight in the Cha Cha, if you remember it — where he flips and drops her, catching her right before she’s about to hit the floor, face down. DTS audience went WILD.

Anyway, enough from me. What did you guys think?


  1. I have to say I thought blecccch at the new format. I so missed seeing the actual competition part, and was annoyed they didn't even announce the placements. But maybe I felt so blecccch because I thought most of the showdances were extremely weak – I even FFed through some of them! Riccardo and Yulia were wonderful, of course.

  2. Wish wish wish I could get the channel here in the UK, it sounds like a great idea for a show! Thanks for the review though 🙂

  3. Tonya, is it possible to get a list of the titles of music used on the most recent

  4. Although I didn't watch ABC, overall I really liked the Yulia-Max partnership much much more than the Yulia-Riccardo partnership. Yulia and Riccardo are still amazing no matter what, but Yulia and Max were much more expressive and artistic with their dancing. Why were they not ranked as highly? What am I missing? Maybe they weren't on the same athleticness level of Joanna but they were definitely on the same athleticness level as Sergey and Melia who are 3rd(?) now.

    What do you think of Anna Trebunskaya as a dancer? I actually think her face looks cheeky, not sweet 😛

  5. I loved the Skimelis & Pupelyte latin showdance! I have been looking all over the internet but can't find a video of it. Amazing choreography.

    Jaime: you can get a list of the music here at

  6. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    I'm sorry, I don't have a list. I know America's Ballroom Challenge has a Facebook page where you can talk to them directly. You might try there.

  7. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Thanks for the link, Joy. I really liked that showdance too. Skimelis and Pupelyte are one of my favorite couples. I was disappointed that we didn't get to see any of their group dancing.

  8. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Yeah, she does have big cheeks 🙂 — which I think may be made more noticeable by the fact that she smiles so much. Well, I think Pavlo is an excellent dancer, and honestly, I'm often looking at him when I watch them. I think Anna is dancing much faster than when she was with Jonathan. And I think she is fairly precise. I think Pavlo brings out the best in her — it's a far better partnership than she and Jonathan. But I do think Pavlo is the powerhouse there.

    It's interesting what you noticed about Max and Yulia. Initially when I saw her dance with Riccardo I thought the same thing — she was so much more expressive with Max — and I was disappointed, though I thought Riccardo is much faster than Max. I think that's why she's not as expressive, because she is dancing faster now. And speed is what I think is ultimately rewarded in Latin. That's why I think Sergey and Melia have never placed at the top. I think artistry takes time — I mean, literally. You can't be dancing at the speed of light and have time to be so expressive with your body. So those who are more interested in creating beautiful shapes and giving their routines a kind of story — like Sergey and Melia and like Max and Yulia– suffer for it in the results. That's the only thing I can figure!

  9. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Hi Eleanor! It's an interesting show. It's basically one of the U.S.'s biggest, most widely-attended competitions, the Ohio Star Ball, taped for TV. The problem is, in order to make it more “interesting” — ie: for non-ballroom fans — they've created all this completely fake category of Best of the Best (best overall, of all four styles combined) and made all these showdance competitions, which wouldn't otherwise exist at the Ohio Star Ball, or any competition. It's created a lot of controversy in the ballroom community. Originally, they did focus primarily on the group dances — those that are part of a real competition, but people are surmising they thought they'd try to alter the format so as to be more like Dancing With the Stars (Strictly Come Dancing in the UK) in hopes they'd have more viewers.

    Oh and PBS is like your BBC I guess — a basic, free, public TV channel. Do they televise actual competitions there?

  10. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Hey Parker — did you see that thread on the TV Dance Forum?:… Someone on Facebook pointed me to it. Apparently there is a lot of controversy in the ballroom community about the new format. Most don't like it. I thought it was just me who wanted to see more group dances! I wonder if they'll change it back? I feel like we got to see so little of some of the couples who didn't make it to the finals — like Vaidotas and Jurga!

    I mean, the whole frigging problem is that the couples don't usually do these showdance numbers and they don't know what the hell is expected of them, right! They think the judges want something out of the ordinary, so they don't want to do basic ballroom, and then audiences don't know what they're doing.

  11. She is an amazing teacher though, and much prettier in real life than on TV or youtube.

  12. Maybe this is an evolution in latin dancing. I understand that Carmen was/is more of a character dancer than an athletic dancer and I think the former generation of superstars had more female character dancers than athletic dancers.

  13. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Oh is she — you mean Anna, right? She seems like she'd be nice and patient. I don't know why I say that, she just seems like she would be!

  14. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Yeah, that's true — I think Carmen was very dramatic and Brian was the speed-demon, though he was a character too. I don't know exactly what kept them on top for so long — probably a combination of excellent technique and really charismatic dance personalities. It was hard to take your eyes off them whenever they were on the floor. Maybe there are no huge personalities in the ballroom world these days, so speed becomes the most important factor?…

  15. I never knew it was the Ohio Star Ball! You learn something new every day. . .

    They televise three competitions here (as far as I'm aware), on British Eurosport. Last year we got Semis and Final from Kremlin Cup, World Masters and World Latin and this year we got Kremlin Cup, World Latin and the European. They also throw in the odd showdance if there is one, so it's all in all not bad.

    The only down side is that the commentators that they use are SO bad. The person they get from Eurosport clearly doesn't have the first idea and is so besotted with Yulia that it begins to get quite disgusting. . .

  16. I was quite dissapointed with the new short-format for ABC. I have an ABC party every year with many of my local dance friends, and this year my party was shortened because of the 2-hour format. We were all frowning about the missing group dances. I hope that they return to the 5-hour format next year! It might be a funding issue with PBS? Imagine all the great High Definition material that they had to edit out to get it down to 2 hours!! I wish they could sell the program, on blu-ray perhaps, with all material included!

  17. I was quite dissapointed with the new short-format for ABC. I have an ABC party every year with many of my local dance friends, and this year my party was shortened because of the 2-hour format. We were all frowning about the missing group dances. I hope that they return to the 5-hour format next year! It might be a funding issue with PBS? Imagine all the great High Definition material that they had to edit out to get it down to 2 hours!! I wish they could sell the program, on blu-ray perhaps, with all material included!

  18. so where online can one find these dancers from the ohio star ballroom 2009! pbs stopped their coverage, so who filmed them in nov 2009 and where are the results?

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